Match Preview: Thunder v Southern Vipers
Laura Jackson is hoping the best may yet be to come from the Thunder this summer.
Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy
Friday September 10, 2021, 10.30am
Sale Cricket Club
On the eve of the 50-over Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy’s resumption, seam bowling all-rounder Jackson is confident of an eye-catching finish to 2021, starting against defending champions Southern Vipers at Sale tomorrow (10.30am).
Jackson, 23, says the squad have already “smashed” their summer goals.
That means the shackles are off for the final three group games and potentially some knockout cricket beyond.
They are five points off the all important top three qualifying places with a possible 15 to play for.
“If you just look at where we were last year, we are a completely different side,” said the Liverpudlian. “We’re all putting performances in and are a lot more competitive.
“We set down goals at the start of the season, and we’ve already smashed them.”
It has been said many times that Thunder are a developing squad with trophies not their main target this summer.
But a number of players such as Jackson have progressed their games, added to notable wins against title challengers Central Sparks and Northern Diamonds in both 50-over and T20 cricket.
Less than a fortnight ago, they were in with a chance of reaching the Charlotte Edwards Cup T20 Finals Day ahead of the final round of group games.
“We started the season with not a lot of pressure being a young side,” said Jackson. “And when we go in with no pressure and to have fun, that’s when I think the team performs the best.
“There is definitely no pressure for the next few weeks.”
However, given the forward steps made, Jackson believes “things will be different” in 2022.
She said: “We’ll sit down at the start of the summer and set out our goals again.
“I’m excited to see what happens because we’re growing quite quickly as players and as a team. The future is bright.”
The Thunder are sixth with two wins and eight points in the eight-team RHF Trophy table, of which the Vipers are top on 14 points.
The top team advances directly to the final at Northampton on September 25, while the second and third-placed teams play off in a semi-final eliminator on September 22.
Jackson was one of the stars of Thunder’s last 50-over match, a one-wicket win over pre-game league leaders Central Sparks at Worcester on June 12.
She opened the bowling and took 3-35 to bowl the hosts out for 203 before hitting a measured 30 from number seven to recover the chase from 95-7.
That game was one of her summer highlights alongside taking four wickets in a Lancashire women’s T20 win over Ireland at Emirates Old Trafford and playing in the very first game of the Hundred at the Oval.
“I remember thinking, ‘We’re really making history here’,” she said of the latter. “I got goosebumps.”
Jackson has taken four wickets in seven competitive Thunder appearances this summer, adding 61 runs down the order.
“The winter training we had really, really helped me,” said the player who plays league cricket at Norley Hall in Wigan.
“My bowling has massively stepped up. I’ve put a few more yards on as well. But I’m hoping to climb the order with my batting.”
Jackson, who spent four winters playing club cricket in Melbourne pre-Covid, comes from a badminton mad family.
Her parents met playing that game, and Jackson herself played to county junior standard before turning to cricket and progressing into the county age-groups at Under 15s level.
“Nobody really knows anything about cricket in my family, so I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do!’” she laughed.
Her father Paul was her badminton coach, and he is also now her boss given she is not one of the Thunder’s five contracted players.
She said: “It can be difficult to balance the cricket because I have a part-time job on the side. However, I'm very fortunate that I’m part of a family business which my dad runs. We’re in the packaging industry.
“I can be quite flexible with times, and he’s fully supportive when I’ve got cricket.”
With the development of women’s cricket in this country, Jackson is hoping to give her dad a welcome problem in the near future.
“Every girl in the team is striving for a full-time contract, so hopefully some more are coming around,” she added.
“It just helps with your life and career - you can put that 100 percent effort into it.
“It shows that when the support is there, the standard is getting better. I definitely want a contract because I’m really excited for what the future holds in women’s cricket in this country.”
Thunder, meanwhile, have elevated 16-year-old Welsh wicketkeeper batter Seren Smale into their senior squad following some impressive Academy performances.
This is the first meeting of the two teams in regional cricket.
The two sides were in separate groups in the recent Charlotte Edwards T20 Cup, a competition in which the Vipers were beaten semi-finalists.
Last season’s Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy was a similar scenario, with Coronavirus bringing about North and South groups.
Vipers and Lancashire Thunder were regular foes in the Kia Super League T20 competition, which ended in 2019.
The last meeting between the pair was a tie at Hove that summer, Thunder defending their 132-7 thanks to three wickets for Emma Lamb and two apiece for Kate Cross and Sophie Ecclestone.
One to watch:
Seren Smale. The North Wales opening batter, also a former national junior tennis player, has been elevated from the Academy to the senior squad for the closing stages of 2021.
Smale has played age-group cricket for Wales and has represented Lancashire since Under 15s level. She was the Red Rose Under 15s player of the year in 2019.
She scored back-to-back half-centuries opening the batting for the Thunder in July’s regional Academy festival at Shrewsbury and will be eyeing a senior debut over the next nine days after more than 900 runs in representative cricket this year.